thu 12/12/2019

David Shrigley: Really Good, Fourth Plinth | reviews, news & interviews

David Shrigley: Really Good, Fourth Plinth

David Shrigley: Really Good, Fourth Plinth

Thumbs up for Trafalgar Square's latest sculpture

David Shrigley's force for positivity in the rain© Gautier Deblonde

It was inevitable that David Shrigley's breezy new sculpture for Trafalgar Square – part of the popular Fourth Plinth Programme – would be appropriated for political purposes. As the giant seven-metre-high thumbs-up Really Good was unveiled by Mayor Sadiq Khan it was greeted with a sudden downpour, but exuded a defiant post-Brexit cheery optimism. "London is open to the world," declared Khan to the sodden onlookers, welcoming immigrants, EU citizens, people of all ages and backgrounds.

Shrigley is equally aware that Really Good could be co-opted by a grinning Nigel Farage – but he is a fan of Khan's and recently created a poster for the Mayor's "London Is Open" campaign. When Shrigley won the Fourth Plinth commission in 2013, during Boris Johnson’s reign, it was a very different time. He triumphed on the basis of an ironic submission written, as he said in a recent interview, as if he were a character from The Thick of It. "There seems to be a worrying trend for things being bad: the economy, the weather, society etc," he wrote, and  this trend "needs to be reversed." He wanted his work, therefore, to be seen as a force for positivity, and become – as it were – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The cartoonish thumbs up, with the thumb hugely elongated for emphasis (the title is Really Good, not Quite Good), looks uncannily like the elongated finger of ET. Through skilfully modelling, the cast bronze has been given the same plastic quality as plasticine – no wonder a group of assembled schoolchildren instantly gave it a thumbs-up of their own. The passengers on a passing tourist bus seemed slightly more bemused; Really Good has been given the same dark patina as the other heroic symbols of nationhood in the square, a "blackened" look which also gives it a graphic satirical quality. Shrigley's initial approach may have been ironic in its commentary on modern Britain (it has a distinctive phallic quality), but he has – by his own admission – become infected by his own optimism. It is difficult – even on this greyest of London days – not to be buoyed up by it.

The cartoonish thumbs up, with the thumb hugely elongated for emphasis, looks uncannily like the elongated finger of ET

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